Category Archives: Labor Unions

A Roadmap to Rebuilding Worker Power

Source: David Rolf, The Century Foundation, August 8, 2018

What You Should Know:
– Organized labor is in decline. Today, only 6 percent of private-sector workers are represented by a union, compared to 33 percent in the 1950s.

– Yet, despite this trend, and recent setbacks in rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court and the National Labor Review Board, polls show that public support for unions is at its highest level in many years—around 60 percent.

– Young people are especially enthusiastic about the need for unions. Among adults under age 30, unions’ approval rating is an eye-popping 76 percent.

– With automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence shaping the future of work—and an increasing number of occupations becoming unmoored from the confines of current labor laws—there are growing calls to rewrite those laws for the twenty-first century.

– A strong and future-focused labor movement has the opportunity to reshape structural power dynamics for working Americans in a way not seen since the 1935 passage of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

Three Key Takeaways From Supreme Court Union Ruling

Source: Maureen Minehan, Employment Alert, Volume 35 Issue 15, July 24, 2018
(subscription required)

Whether you’re a public employer with a union or a private employer with no union fears, there’s much to consider in the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31. The 5-4 decision, issued on June 27, 2018, the final day of the 2017-2018 Supreme Court term, could change the influence unions have in elections and in policymaking.

The case centered on the legality of “fair share” fees that must be paid to unions by non-union members. The fees, also known as “agency fees,” are typically a percentage of the full dues paid by union members and represent the costs of union activities thought to directly benefit all employees, such as collective bargaining, grievance resolution and general representation. The goal is to prevent employees from becoming “free riders,” or individuals who benefit from union services without paying for them.

Why the Janus Decision Matters to Library Unions

Source: Carrie Smith, American Libraries, July 24, 2018

On June 27, the Supreme Court delivered a blow to public sector unions that could affect many library workers. The 5–4 decision in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) declares it unconstitutional for public sector unions to collect agency fees from nonmember employees based on free speech grounds.

Library workers in public, school, academic, and other libraries who are employed through state and local governments in the 22 states that are not already right-to-work states are affected by this decision. Those who are not union members will no longer have agency fees deducted from their paychecks. More than a quarter of librarians (26.2%) and around one-fifth of library technicians (19.3%) and library assistants (22.7%) are union members nationwide, according to statistics compiled by the AFL-CIO Department for Professional Employees…..

The Demise of Fair Share Fees: ‘Janus’ and Its Impact

Source: Adam Santucci and Langdon Ramsburg, Legal Intelligencer, August 2, 2018
(subscription required)

Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark decision, which may ultimately prove to alter the landscape of public sector labor relations and undermine the political clout of public sector labor unions throughout the United States.

Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark decision, which may ultimately prove to alter the landscape of public sector labor relations and undermine the political clout of public sector labor unions throughout the United States. The court’s holding in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, 138 S. Ct. 2448 (2018), was clear: requiring public sector employees to pay “fair share fees” (sometimes referred to as “agency fees”) violates the First Amendment.

The road to Janus was long and took some interesting twists and turns. To fully understand Janus and its impact, it is necessary to start at the beginning—the court’s 1977 holding in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, 431 U.S. 209 (1977).

Vermont’s Striking Nurses Want A Raise for Nonunion Workers Too

Source: Jonah Furman, Labor Notes, August 2, 2018

Especially for professional workers, when your main strike issue is pay, attracting public support can be a challenge.

Savvy employers paint union members as spoiled. They like to point out that you’re already making more than many of your nonunion neighbors.

Yet when 1,800 nurses and technical staff struck for better wages July 12-13 at the state’s second-largest employer, the University of Vermont Medical Center, the people of Burlington came out in force to back them up.

“We had policemen and firefighters and UPS drivers pulling over and shaking our hands” on the picket line, said neurology nurse Maggie Belensz. “We had pizza places dropping off dozens of pizzas, giving out free ice cream.”

And when a thousand people marched from the hospital through Burlington’s downtown, “we had standing ovations from people eating their dinners,” she said. “It was a moving experience.”

One reason for such wide support: these hospital workers aren’t just demanding a raise themselves. They’re also calling for a $15 minimum wage for their nonunion co-workers, such as those who answer the phones, mop the floors, cook the food, and help patients to the bathroom…..

Viewpoint: Boss Can’t Be Janus Fix

Source: Chris Brooks, Labor Notes, July 25, 2018

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s Janus decision, a new approach to financing unions called “direct reimbursement” is gaining traction with Democratic politicians, academics, and even the New York Times editorial board.

It boils down to this: rather than public sector workers paying dues, their government employer would pay an equivalent amount directly to the union.

Proponents claim this approach will neutralize the impact of the Janus decision and shore up union budgets.

The idea has legs. New York’s most senior Democratic Assemblyman Richard Gottfried is sponsoring a bill to allow public sector unions to negotiate this scheme into their contracts. Hawaii is entertaining a version too.

Backed into a corner and fearful for the future, some unions might jump at this quick fix. It’s a big mistake.

Trump Launches War on Federal Unions

Source: Jim Campana, Labor Notes, July 26, 2018

Federal employees are at war with a presidential administration that’s bent on busting their unions. They rallied around the country July 25, their day in court as federal unions sue to halt three anti-union executive orders. …. AFGE, the Treasury Employees (NTEU), and other federal unions have filed suit in federal district court against the three executive orders that Trump signed on May 25, a Friday afternoon that will live in infamy.

Present consequences of unfunded pension liabilities and ways forward

Source: Jeffrey Cheng and David Wessel, Brookings Institution, July 16, 2018

Note: This paper will be presented at the 2018 Municipal Finance Conference on July 16 & 17, 2018.

State governments with large unfunded pension liabilities are paying more to borrow from capital markets than are other states, according to Chuck Boyer of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

In the paper, “Public pensions, political economy and state government borrowing costs,” to be presented at the 2018 Municipal Finance Conference at Brookings this week, Boyer argues that markets view states with large pension deficits as riskier investments. His evidence suggests that states are already paying for municipal government’s unfunded pension liabilities in the form of higher borrowing costs. He asks two questions: 1) how are state governments’ borrowing costs affected by unfunded pension obligations? and 2) do states with political constraints face higher borrowing costs?

Boyer constructs a panel dataset using each state’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports for the period 2005 to 2016. He focuses on balance sheet variables—revenues, expenses, assets, and liabilities—to capture a state’s financial health and credit default swap (CDS) spreads – the premium paid to protect buyers from an issuer defaulting – to measure borrowing cost. The author reasons that CDS reflects market sentiments better than market yields because CDS are more liquid, and because they are standardized, whereas market yields may be affected by additional features of a particular bond.

Related:
Public pensions, political economy and state government borrowing costs
Source: Chuck Boyer, University of Chicago Booth School of Business, current draft: July 11, 2018

I find that public pension funding status has a robust and statistically significant relationship with state borrowing costs, as measured by credit default swap spreads. A one standard deviation increase in the net pension liability to GDP ratio is related to an 18 basis point increase in CDS spreads. This effect is most pronounced among states with constitutional protection for pension liabilities, suggesting the markets perceive these legal protections as material. I also find suggestive evidence that states with more powerful unions pay higher borrowing costs. Results are robust to using spreads from the underlying bonds themselves. These findings highlight the fact that states are already paying for potential future pension problems through higher borrowing costs.

Related: presentation slides

When Needed Public Pension Reforms Fail or Appear to Be Legally Impossible, What Then? Are Unbalanced Budgets, Deficits and Government Collapse the Only Answer?
Source: James E. Spiotto, Chapman Strategic Advisors, May 30, 2018

The problem of underfunded public pensions confronts a number of states and local governments in the United States. In the past, numerous public employers in the United States have agreed to pension benefits that now appear challenging to afford given current revenues and the increased cost of providing governmental services. Further, this challenge has been exacerbated by past failures to set aside sufficient moneys to meet the pension benefits obligations incurred to date. All of this is occurring on the heels of the Great Recession of 2007, followed by an anemic recovery, and at a time many states and local governments are faced with an aging infrastructure that must be attended to and increased demands for basic public services (sanitation, water, streets, schools, food inspection, fire department, police, ambulance, health and transportation) that must be met. Because the public pension underfunding problem pits the requirement of meeting pension obligations against the need to provide for essential public services, all citizens have an interest in the fair and equitable solution to the dilemma.

Unfortunately, a just and effective method of resolving unaffordable public pension obligations has been elusive for some public governmental employers and employees. This is due in part to promised pension benefits costs exceeding the government’s ability to pay and the failure to fund promptly the incurred obligations. In some cases, solving the problem has been complicated by the lack of any ability to adjust or modify pension benefits to those that are sustainable and affordable to the fullest extent possible without adversely affecting the funding of essential public services. This paper will provide a review of some legal and practical obstacles that have been making needed pension reform and balancing the budget difficult, if not impossible, and will suggest possible new approaches to the problem that have not yet been tried. …..

Related: presentation slides

Behind The Campaign To Get Teachers To Leave Their Unions

Source: Anya Kamenetz, NPR, July 19, 2018

….Last month, the Supreme Court in Janus v. AFCSME dealt a major blow to public sector unions. The court ruled that these unions cannot collect money, known as agency fees, from nonmembers who are covered by collective bargaining agreements.

Organizations on both sides across the country sprang into action.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, based in Michigan, is running My Pay, My Say as a national campaign. The Freedom Foundation, with headquarters in Washington state, is targeting teachers in Oregon, Washington and California with the slogan, Opt Out Today.

Other groups targeting teachers and public employees in specific states include: the Commonwealth Foundation, the Yankee Institute for Public Policy, the Center of the American Experiment, the Center for Union Facts and Americans for Prosperity.

The outreach tactics include paper mail, phone calls, emails, hotlines, Facebook ads, billboards, TV advertising and even door-to-door canvassing. Organizations are using publicly available email addresses to reach their targets, as well as purchasing mailing lists. ….

…. The groups behind the opt-out campaign, which describe themselves as conservative, libertarian or free-market, share many donors in common, such as the State Policy Network, the Donors’ Fund and DonorsTrust. Many of these groups have long opposed not only agency fees, but teachers unions in general, on the grounds that they inhibit education reforms such as vouchers and charter schools.

According to an analysis of tax filings by the website Conservative Transparency, the top contributors to the Mackinac Center specifically include the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation, and the DeVos Urban Leadership Initiative (formerly the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation). These are the family foundations of the U.S. education secretary, Betsy DeVos, and her husband’s parents. ….

Related:Trump Nominee Is Behind Anti-Union Legal Campaign
Source: Noam Scheiber, New York Times, July 18, 2018

Even before the Supreme Court struck down mandatory union fees for government workers last month, the next phase of the conservative legal campaign against public-sector unions was underway.

In March, with the decision looming, lawyers representing government workers in Washington State asked a federal court to order one of the state’s largest public-employee unions “to disgorge and refund” fees that nonmembers had already paid. Similar lawsuits were filed in California, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Ohio. ….

….Beyond their legal claims, the cases share another striking detail: The lead counsel in each is a conservative lawyer named Jonathan F. Mitchell.

Mr. Mitchell, 41, has a formidable résumé. He was a Supreme Court clerk to Justice Antonin Scalia; worked at the Justice Department under President George W. Bush; taught at several law schools, including Stanford; and spent more than four years as the solicitor general of Texas.

After the 2016 election, he served as a volunteer attorney on the Trump transition team, where he helped review future executive orders. In September, the president nominated him to head the Administrative Conference of the United States, a small federal agency that advises the government on improving its inner workings. His nomination awaits action by the Senate after the Judiciary Committee approved him on a party-line vote in March…..